1

The famous

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

means:

Buffalo from Buffalo – whom other buffalo from Buffalo bully – bullies buffalo from Buffalo.

So, the sixth buffalo should take an s, and then the sentence is not a that homonym any more!

On Wikipedia, a sixth buffalo is taken as plural so that it does not need an s. But the subject of that verb (the sixth buffalo) is the second buffalo and thus is singular. Have we intentionally ignored a rule in the language so to make a homonym?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Community Oct 8 '17 at 15:53

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 1
    If all of the nouns in this sentence - the second, fourth, and eighth buffalo - are singular (as you appear to be arguing) then all of the verbs should be as well - not just the sixth, as you point out, but also the fifth buffalo, then. Articles would also be necessary. That would be a lot of mistakes or exceptions for what could now be considered a classic example of homonym wordplay. – talrnu Aug 5 '17 at 19:20
14

No, all buffaloes (the animal) appearing in this sentence are plural, and thus the sentence could as well be:

Buffalo buffaloes Buffalo buffaloes buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffaloes.

As this is would not even be remotely as interesting, the creator of this sentence made use of the fact that not only buffaloes but also buffalo itself is a valid plural of buffalo¹².

7

No, because this an example of an invariant plural, as we see in fish or sheep, in deer or caribou or elk or moose, or in pronghorn or antelope, and so on and so forth:

  • One buffalo, two buffalo, a herd of buffalo.
  • One bison, two bison, a herd of bison.
  • One deer, two deer, a herd of deer.
  • One caribou, two caribou, a herd of caribou.
  • One elk, two elk, a herd of elk.
  • One moose, two moose, a herd of moose.
  • One pronghorn, two pronghorn, a herd of pronghorn.
  • One antelope, two antelope, a herd of antelope.

You can tell from the lack of determiner that it’s a group of them used in the general sense, which is reinforced by having both verbs in the plural as well.

The word buffalo was specifically chosen for this silly little ditty because the plural noun looks just like the plural verb, which is not usually the way these things work. (Sometimes water buffaloes are inflected into the plural regularly, but when speaking of bison, such “buffalo” usually are not.)

You couldn’t do it with some city named Hound or Cow since you would end up with a different plural noun like “Hound hounds hounding Hound hounds.”

But you could do it with a city named Fish (if you could find one!), since then you’d have “Fish fish fishing Fish fish.”

dr seuss illustration

  • 1
    Speaking of water buffalo — Buffalo water buffalo Buffalo water buffalo buffalo water Buffalo water buffalo. – Peter Shor Aug 5 '17 at 17:36
  • 5
    @PeterShor Two fish to fish two fish fish two fish too. – tchrist Aug 5 '17 at 17:37
1

The subject of the sentence is the first Buffalo buffalo, which is a collective noun phrase. Therefore, the verb buffalo in the predicate (the sixth word) should be conjugated in the plural, and hence it's buffalo.

For the subject to be a single buffalo, an article would be needed:

A Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffaloes Buffalo buffalo.

And if this buffalo can only really bully one other buffalo, it would then be:

A Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffaloes a Buffalo buffalo.

It's becoming much less clever sounding. But there's always bulldogs.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.